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The sad story behind “Funky Drummer”

Clyde Stubblefield died on February 18 this year. He was mourned by hundreds of drummers worldwide, as well as the famous funk, r’n’b and sould musicians. Most people know him from his work with “the godfather of soul”- James Brown, or another soul legend- Otis Redding. But the thing, that made him famous is the groove from Brown’s track entitled “Funky Drummer”. It was groundbreaking pattern, a fat groove, which became one of the most sampled beats ever. It was used in hip-hop and many other genres, a lot! It also gave Stubblefield his nickname- Funky Drummer.  Stubblefield’s position in music history is assured. But the fact remains that he was never properly compensated financially for his talent and innovation. He died on February 18 but before the end of his life had unpaid medical bills of $90,000. Before he died, Stubblefield revealed that his bills were settled by the late great Prince in an act of charity. He was one of the drummer’s greatest fans. So questions are now being asked as to what it was that Stubblefield was actually “given” by his employers and by the generation of musicians that seemingly so often took his labour for granted.


Stubblefield worked with James Brown from 1965-1971 having previously been the sticksman for soul legend Otis Redding. He was no newcomer to the music business and it was normal practice for musicians like Stubblefield to be paid a one-off fee for the recording. Despite making a critical contribution to the record, he would not have retained any of the rights to his performance or his compositional contribution. Stubblefield spoke about Brown in the documentary, saying: “He didn’t tell me what to play … I played what I felt but he owned it.”. His story may have gone unnoticed by the wider world were it not for the recording of Funky Drummer on November 20, 1969. It was a minor hit for for The Godfather of Soul. But five minutes and 34 seconds into the song, Stubblefield embarks upon a solo drum feature that launches both him and his drumming into the future, becoming a primary source in hip-hop’s development.

The snare bounces off and against the straighter parts creating an addictively danceable beat that would prove irresistible to legions of hip-hop producers, DJs, rappers and pop artists. “Breakbeats” (looped two-bar audio snapshots known as samples) from the solo became one of the rhythmic foundations of hip-hop and were used hundreds of times on tracks by artists including Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Ice Cube and Run DMC. The affordable new sampling technology such as the E-mu SP-1200 percussion sampler that emerged in the mid 1980s made this possible, building on the vinyl mixing innovations of hip-hop innovator DJ Kool Herc. However, in the excitement surrounding the new hip-hop culture and associated technologies, few stopped to think about paying or crediting the artists who were being sampled. Stubblefield said:People use my drum patterns on a lot of these songs … They never gave me credit, never paid me. It didn’t bug me or disturb me, but I think it’s disrespectful not to pay people for what they use.” It wasn’t long before the sample was being picked up by pop and rock producers – and so Stubblefield’s uncredited influence grew and grew. In another interview, Stubblefield spoke about how the samplers sometimes tweaked his drum part, adding: “They can change the tone … they’ve got so much technology today they can make the speed go up … whatever they want to do with it, and I won’t even know it’s me … I prefer to get my name on the record saying this is Clyde playing … the money is not the important thing, just to get myself out in the world.”. Here is the famous rhtythm used in song by Ed Sheeran:

We will always remember the man who played this tremendous groove and gave his heart to the music! After this story there is one conclusion- you have to know your rights, especially copyrights! What do you think about Clyde’s situation?

Source of information: https://uk.news.yahoo.com/